Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11TH, 1999 -- CHICHEN-ITZA

We've hired a tour guide, Jorge. Today we go off to see the ruins of Chichen-Itza, and I ask Jorge many questions as we drive.

I've decided to locate my novel in San Cristobal, in Chiapas, because it was the site of revolutionary activity a few years ago. Main industries in Chiapas: cement, tourism, honey production, salt mining, and fishing. Japanese and Korean companies often come for octopus fishing.

Mexican culture: they have time to give warmth to other people. It's not the fast life. Some people in the USA live to work. But in Mexico people work 8-9 hours a day even though they're relaxed. Most people come and say to Mexico: "You have oil & mining"... so why not prosperity? It's not that easy.

Jorge on NAFTA: "We do see industry in Mexico, but there's no money in my pocket. The rich get richer. Big merchant companies and enterprises do not allow us to grow. The gov't doesn't allow competition; they support their favorites. There's both incompetency and corruption in the government.

Here, all the foreign companies love to say their factories are "Mexican owned", like Nissan, but it turns out it's the cousin or uncle or friend of the government who gets that role. If you have no job, but have a friend in the government who is in politics (the PRI) you can have a job, but you have to support the government and help them. Jorge knows a guy who represents the simple workers in politics but does nothing to help them. All the leaders are rich people.

The PRI is the party with power but it is currently falling. PAN "national action party" and PRD are other parties. 80% are PRI currently.

Bribery: At the time of my visit, bribery occurred less than in the past, but was still a factor. How does bribery work? Jorge says, let's say I need a license to open my own store. I have to a government office and say that I am coming on behalf of some group (possibly a union) that supports the party. Otherwise, they say "Come back another day". Or they say "You must meet this requirement and that requirement"... but there's always more and more.

Even though Mexicans are against bribes, they have to pay bribes anyway, just to get on with their lives. An example. Usually they don't ask for money; it's implied. Six months before my visit, Jorge was trying to renew his federal drivers license. He failed the test. In the old days, the tester would say "give me 50 pesos". Or "300 pesos". But six months ago, she just opened her drawer and said put in whatever you want. This is an improvement over the way it was.

A dialogue example. You go to the information desk.

"What are you planning to do?"

"Open a restaurant."

"OK. You need a health permit for every worker, pay land taxes, report income. A license to sell alcohol. Do you have requirements and all documents, like birth certificate?”

The NOM -- National Mexican Norms ensures quality of the food you will be selling. They check that all employees are healthy & the place is clean. If one paper is missing, "please give me a hand"... bribery.

For a tourist license, must take a test on anthropology & language. Costs money. A friend of Jorge's couldn't make the test. "Give me 1500 pesos and I'll give you a hand & help you get your papers." It's hard to get a job for the first time since you can't afford to pay the fees without a job.

High school students need a test for admission to University. 2000 students go there. The test takes three hours & they tell you whether you've gotten in. You need to get someone inside the school: a teacher, director, and say "give me a hand". It doesn't even matter whether you've done well on the test. "Give me a hand" is "echar una mana". Corruption at all levels, not just the highest levels.

American companies hire Mexican people because the labor is cheaper. The wages the Mexicans earn at US jobs pay more than Mexican jobs, but they're still bad. Human rights aren't very strong in Mexico. Sometimes foreigners hire Mexicans to work but don't treat them right. Hundreds of bikes here. People don't get paid more than $70 a week, plus social security, plus credits for the house. 24% yearly interest on a loan is considered cheap.

When someone is pursued by the law for any reason, all the branches of the Mexican government work together: police, army, special agents. If someone tries to escape, no bribe will help -- it's too important. Perhaps if the runner had a very good relation in the authorities.

This happened when one the governor of Quintanaro, a year ago, he was being hidden and managed to escape from the airport in Cancun. Must have been bribes and a private plane.

Drugs & violent crime are heavily punished. Mexico is supposedly working with the US government. Drugs are produced in South America and they come to Yucatan. Someone is in charge of collecting it and taking it to Mexico for a border crossing. You would need to bribe a high-ranking guard for this, not just bribe a low-level one, because it involves too many people.

There are two main mob groups in Mexico, both near the north border with the US. The great majority of these drugs are consumed in the USA.

Click prev or next to continue Johnny Monsarrat Mexican Trip.